09/30/2009 11:00PM

You and I Forever good price play


NEW YORK - It doesn't get much more serious when it comes to stakes racing than it does on Saturday, with five Grade 1 events at Belmont Park and several other important stakes at tracks elsewhere.

At Belmont, the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup leads the Grade 1 parade, followed by the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, the Beldame, and the Flower Bowl, which are worth $600,000 each, and the $400,000 Vosburgh Stakes.

Sharing top billing with the Gold Cup as the richest race in the nation Saturday is the Grade 2, $750,000 Fitz Dixon Cotillion at Philadelphia Park. Other races of note include the Grade 2, $500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup, the Grade 2, $500,000 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park, and the Grade 2, $150,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown. And the first Saturday of the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meet is California Cup Day, with the $200,000 Cal Cup Classic headlining the card.

Hawthorne Gold Cup

Jonesboro, Awesome Gem, and Nite Light are the first three favorites on the morning line. And while they're all hard hitters in reasonably good form, they aren't so imposing as to dissuade me from taking a shot against them. Of the three, Jonesboro is the most scary, as he has a right to improve on a second in his recent return from a two-month layoff, and he was in career form before that freshening. But Jonesboro did lose a race last time out that, given his 2-5 odds, he maybe shouldn't have lost. And while Jonesboro was second in the 2007 edition of this race to Student Council in his only previous attempt at this 1 1/4-mile distance, Jonesboro set the kind of slow pace he won't be able to get away with this time, and that was only a five-horse field.

As for Awesome Gem, he's probably meeting softer competition than he did in his two recent Grade 1 starts at Del Mar. But even when he is at his very best, Awesome Gem much prefers finishing second to winning. Nite Light, meanwhile, won't be coasting on an uncontested lead like he did when he dominated the Turfway Park Fall Championship last time out. The speedy, but potentially 10-furlong-challenged Shadowbdancing will make sure of that.

I'm going with You and I Forever. You and I Forever might have disappointed most recently when a distant second in the Iselin Stakes. But he attempted to rally from last in that event while the winner, Chirac, was loose on the lead on a sloppy track that was very kind, if not biased, to speed.

Last year, however, You and I Forever turned in a couple of races that suggest he's good enough to win a race like this. The first was in the Henry Walton Stakes at Saratoga, in which he was beaten just a neck by Mambo in Seattle after a long duel. Mambo in Seattle came back to be beaten a whisker by Colonel John in the Travers, and was certainly best considering all the ground he lost. The other performance You and I Forever turned in last year that puts him in the mix here was his second in the Jerome to Tale of Ekati, who came back to be rightfully placed first in the Cigar Mile.

On Saturday, You and I Forever should get a solid pace to stalk, and he figures to like the added distance.

Indiana Derby

Although I have my doubts, I'm hoping the morning line here will be right and that Win Willy will be 6-1, because if he is even in the neighborhood of that price, he's a solid play.

Win Willy recently made his first start back from a five-month absence due to an ankle injury that knocked him out of a start in the Kentucky Derby. And though he was competing on a synthetic surface for the first time, and at a sprint distance shorter than what he prefers, he finished a fast-closing third. Now, Win Willy moves back to dirt and stretches out to the distance at which he won the Rebel going away from the highly regarded Old Fashioned.

Sumo also merits respect here. He improved dramatically to win an overnight stakes at Saratoga last time out in his second start off a four-month absence. Early in the year he finished second in the Sam Davis, ahead of Musket Man, who came back to win the Tampa Bay and Illinois Derbies, and finish third in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Jockey Club Gold Cup

Despite Macho Again's near-miss to Rachel Alexandra last time out in the Woodward, I'm not buying into him here. All the speed in the Woodward collapsed except for Rachel Alexandra - that's a huge reason why she deserves all the praise she's received for winning that race - and the Woodward really set up perfectly for closers like Macho Again.

I believe this Gold Cup belongs to the 3-year-olds Summer Bird and Quality Road. And despite the fact that Summer Bird left Quality Road five lengths back in third when he won the Travers most recently, I like Quality Road to turn the tables.

Taking nothing away from Summer Bird, who won the Belmont Stakes on the track he races on Saturday, but the Travers was a close to impossible task for Quality Road. He was stretching out to 10 furlongs in tiring slop off one 6 1/2-furlong prep after being laid up four months because of quarter cracks. Quality Road is in much better position this time to show his brilliant early season form, form that makes him the fastest horse in this race Beyer-wise, and his outside position sets him up for a good trip stalking Tizway's pace.